If it’s possible to have massive expectations while not having any expectations at all, this is how I felt waiting in line to see Super 8. I tempered my anxiousness with a carefully thought-out mantra, “Let’s just wait and see.” I had no idea what to expect. I carefully sidestepped the blog posts about “secrets” and stopped watching trailers weeks ago. I wanted to be surprised. But still, ever since I saw the first teaser ages ago, I had the sincere feeling that this movie was going to be different — better — than most.
Which, of course, is the single worst thing you can do going into a movie — presume the film will be amazing. Sure, you always think you’ll like something, otherwise, why even go? But expecting sensational is never good. Because so few of them end up being such.
J.J. Abrams has a fairly short feature directorial résumé: before Super 8 he has only directed two films, Mission Impossible 3 and Star Trek, both respectable and highly successful. There are other films attributed to him, namely Cloverfield, but only as the producer. I’m not sure how little or how much impact he had on the final cut of that film.
Most importantly, none of those films gave us any idea to the depth of skill he had meditating inside of him.
Super 8 is in part an homage to the Amblin Entertainment films of the 80s. This was evident from the very first trailer, and it’s what undoubtedly instilled the inescapable expectations I had. Seeing that cream-colored pickup truck barreling toward the railroad crossing reminded me of one of my all-time favorite Spielberg scenes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
I won’t dissect the plot scene-by-scene, but a brief rundown is in order. A group of seedling filmmakers witness a terrifying and spectacular train crash. Dazed and bruised, they stumble through the rubble and are soon aware that there was something ominous aboard the train.
Before long, townsfolk are turning up missing and the dogs are so freaked out they’ve made like a tree and got the hell out of there. This ‘thing’ is huge and it’s now running loose through the small working class town of Lillian, Ohio.
Abrams does an amazing job revealing only bits and pieces of the bigger picture as the story progresses, focusing instead on the friendships of the kids and cementing strong backstories for the families. By the time the action picks up steam, we know these families and kids well and we’re invested in their fate.
The photography is absolutely stunning: lens flares haven’t been used this keenly in decades. Each shot is perfectly composed — for example, the image of an Air Force tank barreling over a deserted suburban street is haunting and majestic. The tone captures 1979 perfectly, and not in a campy, ‘look at how groovy it was’ way, but rather a more reverent, nostalgic look at the quaintness of life in a small, steel mill town in the 70s.
Super 8 reminds me of Goonies, a prize of my childhood. I hope and think that Super 8 can become that movie for a new generation of kids. You couldn’t make Goonies today. Kids are used to being more scared and more grossed out by video games and television. You need to elevate the thrill to make it palatable for a younger generation. Abrams does that without losing the heart, which was what made Goonies, E.T. and the others unique.
Abrams lucked out with this cast of youngsters — super talented. Not a stiff performance in the bunch.
Super 8 owes a lot to the early Spielberg films, but Abrams was very aware that he needed to up the ante for a modern audience. There are lessons about grief, friendship and coping with change, but they are expertly wrapped in a blanket of special effects and explosions.
This is the movie that will inspire today’s 13-year-old boys and girls to become the Spielbergs and Abramses of tomorrow.
My Best of 2012 Playlist by Eric Garneau
After being inspired by some friends, for the past few years I’ve been really into documenting my musical exploration with year-end mixes. I realize this is not a particularly novel thing to do, but hey, who has original ideas any more? Anyway, this has gotten even easier to do thanks to new technology like Spotify. read more